Campus & Community

African-American girls learn about college opportunities at campus event

On Saturday, May 19, 100 African-American middle and high school girls from Cherry Creek Schools will descend upon the University of Denver for a crash course in possibilities.

They’ll learn about the curious world of insects, the hazards of climate change and the mysteries of fractals. They’ll sample some disciplines outside the sciences that draw upon math skills, logic and analysis. And they’ll be briefed on how to prepare for college-level work and how to negotiate the admissions process. Finally, they’ll learn about life at DU.

The program, known as CARE for Black Adolescent Girls, is the brainchild of Assistant Professor Nicole Russell and Associate Professor Lori Patton, of the Morgridge College of Education. CARE stands for College Aspirations, Readiness and Empowerment, Russell says, noting that it aims to get African-American girls focused on college while alerting them to the career possibilities associated with the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Russell, an expert in math education, sees the program—and the resulting partnership with Cherry Creek Schools—as a way to reach out to an underserved community while building an admissions pipeline to the University.

“DU is really focusing now on inclusive excellence. This is an attempt to help African-American girls learn about the opportunities open to them at the University,” Russell explains, noting that the African-American community tends to view DU as a high-quality but financially out-of-reach institution. Many black students simply don’t realize that private universities are among their options and that resources are available to them.

To bring CARE to life, Russell and Patton partnered with the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, whose faculty are conducting the science and math workshops. The two also coordinated with other campus entities—residence life, admission and various academic programs—to create a daylong event that introduces the eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade girls to the college application process, to campus culture and to African-American college students pursuing degrees at DU. A number of the DU students have volunteered to lead campus tours and to shepherd participants through the day’s events.

Brooke Gregory, executive director of high school education at Cherry Creek Schools, sees the CARE program as the perfect complement to the district’s own efforts to tailor STEM instruction to career possibilities and to support college preparation among its students.

“I think the opportunity to engage with a university of the caliber of DU is phenomenal,” she says, noting that CARE’s outreach to younger girls aligns with the district’s deployment of individual career and academic plans, known as ICAPs. These personalized documents help each high school student devise an academic path to college and career. Where other outreach programs target juniors with two years of high school behind them, CARE works with girls who are just beginning secondary schooling, meaning they can chart their time—and their ICAP— to ensure they take enough math and science.

CARE also demonstrates how math and science are applied outside the classroom and within careers—a concept Cherry Creek Schools is developing in its programming. “I can say that math leads to careers in engineering,” Gregory explains, referencing a hypothetical conversation with a student, “but if kids don’t know what an engineer does … that becomes a struggle.”

Russell hopes to host a CARE event every spring, with alumni from the program mentoring the girls who come after them. If all goes according to plan, Russell says, participants will include DU among their college prospects.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, and to add to her data about African-American girls, Russell will conduct pre- and post-event surveys of CARE participants, questioning them about everything from college readiness to their awareness of STEM careers.

The CARE event is funded by two $8,000 DU public good grants awarded to Russell and Patton.

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